Listen When Your Kids Tell You Who They Are by Heather Kramer
When a child is born, it is often both the fulfillment of one dream and the beginning of another. With a wished-for, prayed-for, sacrificed-for newborn safely nestled in their arms, many parents allow themselves to begin to dream aloud of a healthy, happy, successful life for their child. In that moment, there is also an openness of hope and breathless curiosity- who will this child be? Parents settle into a new routine and watch as this new, tiny person's personality begins to unfold. Sweetness, stubbornness, playfulness, fearlessness--each new revelation is a delight.
As the child grows, their personality expands from these basic traits to include opinions, values, dreams, and the dozens of other things that makes each of us an individual. Sometimes, though, the child's dreams are not the dreams that their parents have cherished since the child's birth. Sometimes values clash and opinions differ. Parents are faced with a choice: to hold tightly onto their own dreams and plans for their child, or to watch their child continue to grow into adolescence and beyond with the same curiosity and delight that they had as brand new parents watching their infant grow into the child before them.
As adults we think of ourselves as autonomous people. We are who we are, and we have the right to make certain decisions about our lives. It is easy to forget that kids and teens are also people, with their own autonomy and their own rights. We have the benefit of experience, of course, and it is our responsibility to provide guidance so that our children learn to make decisions for themselves that enhance their safety and well-being. But at their core every child is their own person, and it is also our responsibility to give them the space to explore their identity as it unfolds within them. If we cannot believe our kids and teens, believe in them when they tell us who they are, we hamper their ability to believe in themselves. And if we do not demonstrate our trust in their wisdom about themselves, we lose their trust in our wisdom about the world. A wound in the relationship grows, filled with resentment, distrust, and disrespect, and parents and children alike wonder when the other stopped listening or caring.
It turns out that the best tools for adults trying to relate to children and teenagers are the same as the ones for adults trying to relate to other adults: empathy, listening for understanding, and mutual respect founded in the inherent worth of every human life, regardless of age or station. People of all ages trust when they feel trusted, listen when they feel heard, and are most fully themselves when they feel most fully seen. When we connect with kids and teens as the true young people they are, we give them the freedom to become the healthy, happy, successful adults we dreamed of when they were born.
If this sounds like something that you and your child are struggling with, you are not alone!